Nafisa Akabor is a freelance technology journalist who has been covering business and consumer tech for 12 years. She spends most of her days testing new phones and gadgets, and is passionate about startups, electric cars and mobile payments. She contributes to the Mail & Guardian, City Press, TechCentral, Forbes Africa and Sawubona, to name a few. Her work appears in newspapers, magazines, online, radio, podcasts and the occasional video.
She has also served as a judge at various hackathons, apps awards and currently judges the Cars.co.za Consumer Awards. Nafisa also has a ten-year-old tech blog called Wired to the Web that gets updated when she has free time between her professional writing gigs.
Please tell us a little more about yourself and your journey thus far.
I was born in Durban and I’m the second child in a family of four daughters. I’ve always been passionate about technology from the time I was a kid. I used to love setting up our new PCs and doubled up as the family tech support. Coming from a family of girls, my dad was over-protective, so instead of going out with my friends, I spent my free time on the internet in the late 90s. Everything I learnt about computers is self-taught.
I wanted to study Information Technology but my dad at the time said it wasn’t a career suitable for a Muslim woman, so I studied Travel and Tourism. The reason I bring this up is not because it bothers me anymore, in fact, if it wasn’t for this, I don’t think I would have ended up in my dream job.
I worked for a large tour operator in Durban after my studies, but I left for the UK when I got married, on a working holiday visa (remember those?). After a stint in Cardiff, Wales, I returned to South Africa and relocated to Johannesburg, which which has been home to me since 2005.
I got a job at a travel website and it was here that I learnt more about the behind-the-scenes of the online world, taught myself html, and doubled up as web support, in addition to writing about travel.
I started writing about technology in my spare time for the now defunct Reporter.co.za and they nominated me for a citizen journalist award at the Telkom ICT Awards 2006. It was at this function that I was spotted by ITWeb, who offered me a full-time job writing for their new tech and blogging website. I started my career in technology journalism purely by being at the right place, at the right time.
I’ve now been writing and blogging about tech for 12 years. I love what I do, and the opportunities it has afforded me thus far, like judging various app or car awards. The bonus – and something I never take for granted – is the travel opportunities of being able to attend tech conferences and launches internationally. I also appear on the TechCentral podcast and occasionally on radio to speak about new tech.
How did your company come about?
I got retrenched in August 2012 and prior to that I was considering going freelance but was too scared to leave a full-time job. When this happened, I decided it was the best time to take the ‘plunge’. I was fortunate that my husband supported me during this initial phase and pushed me to keep going. It wasn’t easy in the beginning because you have to deal with rejections, but it all worked out and now I don’t see myself working full-time for someone else again.
While I don’t have an actual registered company, I am self-employed and have a room in house that has been converted to a home office. It doesn’t matter where I physically work from though, as long as I have an internet connection and my laptop; even a coffee shop or an airport will do. I love being my own boss, making my own rules, and to not have an entity tell me what I can and cannot do in the online world.
What is it that you are passionate about?
I love showing people how easy technology is to figure out (yes really!) and that one shouldn’t feel intimidated by tech – the more you play with it, the more you learn how to use it.
I love trying new restaurants and sampling various cuisines. People who know me know that I unashamedly take pics of my food (I have a separate Instagram account for this called @nafisaeats). My passion for food is linked to my love for traveling and forms a big part of my adventures abroad. My current goal is to visit 40 countries by the time I turn 40, inspired by one of my favourite travel bloggers.
I’ve also recently started eating healthier and working out, so I’m enjoying cooking more simple meals.
Who or What has been the biggest influence in your life and why?
My husband. I got married young – at 21 and went to live abroad soon after, away from family and friends so I had to learn and adapt very quickly. I’ve known him for 17 years and his attitude has had a huge impact on the better person I am today because I’ve grown a lot since meeting him.
He is also my biggest supporter and is always pushing me to accept new challenges that I sometimes question. He constantly reminds me that as an individual working for myself, I don’t have the support of a company and I should take all the opportunities that come my way.
What advice would you give a woman wanting to follow her dreams?
If you have the opportunity, the savings, and a back-up plan, go for it. You have to think about failure as much as success. If things work out, then it will be extremely rewarding for you to have taken that leap of faith. If it doesn’t, then at least you tried, would have learnt life-long lessons, and you’d have a fall back. Experience, regardless of good or bad, is life’s greatest teacher.
What advice would you give a woman wanting to pursue a career in the Tech Sector?
If you have some interest, it’s enough of an interest. The field is so vast, just make sure you know which sector you want to get into and speak to people in positions you could see yourself in or read up about it online.
If you’re still young, try not to be too influenced by what you see online or the real world, which can be very male dominated. The most important thing to remember is to not doubt yourself and your abilities. I believe you can do anything you set your mind to, and you should never let other people put you down.
Ask yourself, what is more satisfying than your hard work speaking for itself and getting by in life through merit?
When I started off my career in Johannesburg, I didn’t know anyone here, but kept pushing through, even if it meant using unconventional methods to get to where I wanted to see myself.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t let people exploit you when they invite you for coffee to ‘pick your brain’. And always be open to negotiate.
Your favourite quote:
Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.
What are your top 3 business tips?
- Get everything in writing.
- Factor tax into your quotes.
- Keep an updated online presence.
What would you say is the secret to your success?
Staying in my own lane, working hard and focusing on being better.
One general piece of advice you would like to share:
Know your worth and don’t be afraid to ask for more money.